Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boxes Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

Most people avoid creative activities due to a fear of failure. The sage having no such fear thinks new thoughts, tries new actions and gains understanding through failures as well as successes.
~ Yesterday's Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

For much of the past 18 years, I've been involved with -- shall we say -- progressive and/or far left advocacy groups. I've held leadership roles within the Socialist Party, Green Party, peace organizations and social justice groups. These organizations are said to be progressive or far left based on their underlying perspectives and foundational principles.

However, just like almost any other group of individuals, it's often difficult to get members and supporters to "think outside the box". While each group's focus may border on being revolutionary, the way each group operates internally is rather conservative. People always seem to want to do things the way they have always been done. If anyone broaches a new idea or strategy, you can be assured that the majority will opine, "What if it doesn't work?"

I've come to believe that almost any group is confined to a box. It doesn't matter where the group falls on the political, philosophical or religious spectrum -- there is still a damn box that constrains their actions.

Fundamentalists have a teeny weeny box. The box for old-fashioned conservatives is a tad bit bigger. Moderates enjoy a slightly larger box. Liberals have a bigger box still. Left wingers have an even larger box. Anarchists have the largest box of all, but it's still a box!

Few groups are willing to try new ideas and strategies because they are each afraid of failure. So, they keep going through the same motions which tend to net the same results. And then they wonder why they can't seem to move forward!

I was an officer of a statewide peace group in Oregon. This organization railed against the top-down hierarchical corporate model as being unethical and against the needs of the people. So, what sort of model do you think this group employed for it's internal structure? Yes, you guessed it -- a top-down hierarchical one.

When the staff and our chief volunteers pitched the idea of becoming a collective with no executive director, the board went bonkers. A state organization must have a chief executive, they told us. Why, we asked. Because that's the way it had always been done!

One of the political parties I was involved with screamed to the high heavens about the practice of gerrymandering employed by the Democrats and Republicans. It's wanton manipulation of the system, they cried. Yet, during a heated debate on a strategical move, the leadership body utilized gerrymandering to apportion delegates for a convention so they could ensure that they would win the day.

I could provide loads of example, but this will suffice. People of all stripes get too caught up in the idea of winning and success based on methods and strategies that have worked before. New ideas and strategies get thrown to the side because a) it hasn't been tried before and b) it might not work.

The fact is that we humans learn best through trial and error. In fact, we often learn more from our mistakes and our mistakes often pave the way toward success. But, in order to move forward, a group has to be willing to try out new ideas and strategies -- ideas and strategies that may or may not work as intended.


  1. My own experiences bear out what you were saying about groups not thinking outside the box.

    A long time ago I worked for a nonprofit health reform organization. More recently I was a member of a slow-growth group in California where I used to live.

    Both of those organizations had goals and ideas that I agreed with. But thinking outside the box? You couldn't find a group of government bureaucrats or clerical workers who were more narrow-focused and by-the-book than those two organizations.

  2. Hey Trey...
    Instead of giving another cyber high-five to you, can I just invite you over for a cup of coffee or tea or water so that we can talk? Man... you always tell it like it is, and though the "is" ain't always pretty it is so damn right on.

    Cyber high-fiving you anyway. : )

  3. My thinking is always so out of the box that I can never stay in a box for too long. I'm always jumping out of boxes cos' I find them so stifling.

  4. I'm terrible -- I'm always taking the boxes they put me in, and playing with the boxes like they were toys.

  5. I've always believed that in order to think outside the box, you have to learn the box first. It's amazing how "boxy" tai chi can be. But too many people want to skip the hard work and discipline and get right down to doing whatever they want. Not right. Learn it first, then blow it away. Also, I have a natural propensity for, and have developed with the tai chi, intuitive thinking as opposed to logical thinking. This causes great problems in a work environment when your boss wnts to know "why" you did or want to do something--you know it's the right thing to do, but to have to explain it is so tedious...

  6. My mind goes outside the box, but my actions stay pretty close to it. For example, I found crafting later in life. I have tons of craft supplies, I collect them, but I don't use them. I'm afraid to waste them :P I do tend to get a little more daring as xmas starts to close in. Last year I painted light bulbs and I dove right in to that one. My sister suggested it because one that she had stopped working and she couldn't find them anywhere, which gave me the incentive and it was a lot of fun. :)

    It's not often that I regret leaving the box, it's getting the courage to do it that I find so very elusive. That, and I’m a terrible procrastinator, I can always do it later…


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